When Life Shatters

R. Scott Peck declared truths in short order in two of his books: LIFE IS DIFFICULT; LIFE IS COMPLEX.

Narrative of same is at times overwhelming—the shooting in the California High School, with two students killed, the shooter in grave condition with a self-inflicted revolver shot, using the last bullet. For so many it is the “last bullet.”

I remember Bill Coffin once declared, “Watch it! Don’t turn the other cheek so as not to see the evil.”

With that…you can footnote, but I want to get personal…My wife, Diane, has a new diagnosis of “severe stenosis,” in the neck, which requires consultation with a neuro-surgeon. Our South Central Conference Minister, Dr. Donald Longbottom, shared that he has been diagnosed with a melanoma, our English Cocker Faith lives as if nothing’s wrong. We refuse to tell her about the cantaloupe-size tumor.

The raging fires of political contempt…racing back and forth across the aisle in the congress. Bam, bam, bam.

Some ask me, “So, what?”

Well, I’ll share it’s more than that. It’s not simply reality and we are to “get over it.”

I won’t! I ask for prayers…especially for Diane and Dr. Don and our Faith. It’s also the case that Dr. Don’s dog has cancer. Prayers that God is present as a comforting and healing Spirit.

No less, I more than value friendships…some new, some as old as I…that friends make a difference. Don’t neglect them. Embrace them in word and deed, knowing that living alone in spirit and truth…is the worst lament. Yes, it is.

And make sure…that in our own life…our very own individual self…we have open hands and not closed fists, we have caring hearts that refuse to harden, and we never close down on God.

For I believe that God never closes down on us. No matter. No matter what. No matter where. No matter when.

God is! And so am I! And so are you!

As I take the bread and wine this Sunday, I’ll ask God to not give up on us…that’s a safe prayer, for sure.

I’ll ask God to help me be an instrument of peace, no matter the difficulties and/or complexities of life.

God? Be with us! Amen!

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Prayers For You And For Me

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Random Acts Of Kindness Drown Out Political Shouting

Okay. Today has more than a political tone to it. The Impeachment Inquiry Hearings start. Certainly the combustible reality of one side of the political aisle pointing to the other, demanding truth—well, that’s not what we’re demanding here for most—causes us to deepen our position.

Having said that, I consider a deeper reality which makes a better day for each of us.

Being kind. Being kind personally.

It’s more than a mindset. It’s a manner of living, a way in which our very individual self can bring at least a smile to others.

And. MOST of the time it is spontaneous. Even in a random hint. Yesterday it was cold in my home village. As I left the grocery store a lady entered. To say she looked grim is an understatement. Maybe it was the 32- degree temperature. But. Maybe it was more.

I couldn’t be silent. Looked at her, ‘Ma’am, today sure makes an announcement that summer is over.”

The grim countenance left. She whispered, “Thank you…an honest perspective. It helps.”

Hey, you never know.

This article, listing how random acts of kindness bring value to life…I share. In hopes you are okay, you know that life—a good and gracious life—is the best. Reality…that you create.

Go for it!

https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/causes/109-random-acts-of-kindness-you-can-start-doing-today/ss-BBPX6nX?li=BBnb7Kz

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Life Can Change In A Heartbeat

Life can change in a heartbeat….

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Every Day May Not Be Good…But

A note received…particularly well timed. It started, “Every day may not be good…”

The morning after receiving that note, got up for the new day, which, of course included walking my three amigos.

Copper, our Yellow Lab, was resting next to my side of the bed. I should have asked him to move, but no, politeness prevailed. Tried to step over him.

Emphasis upon “tried.” Misstep, lost my balance, went down for the count. Well, at least down. Took some time to get up, helped by Diane.

“Every day may not be good…”

Later in the day I heard Diane chuckling with an invitation, “Mark, take a look…the bump!”

I looked. Yikes. There it was. A bump in the wall. Evidence.

We both laughed and Diane, who never shortens a sense of humor, “Now, Mark, you have a new name…for your favorite fish: STEEL HEAD!”

Then something else happened…actually two something else’s. In my plane ride home about midflight from Denver to Austin a lady behind me started talking. Got my attention…she went on and on. I almost asked her to tone it down. Then snuck a peek and saw…it was a mother reading to her child.

So glad I said nothing. Smiled to myself at the lesson: sometimes you don’t know enough.

Then. The second “else.”

Received this picture…so much more evidence of how life can happen with goodness. Look closely at this picture…it’s a sister reading to her brother…touching.

And, yes, look again. Look at their hands. She’s holding his hand while she reads. Wow.

I went back to the opening statement…for it wasn’t complete. Now I will:

“Every day may not be good but there is something good in every day!”

Yep, the conjunctive “but” prevails. I found something good…a lady reading a story to her daughter and a sister caring for her brother. Better than nice. It’s goodness championed.

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Moments Of Hope

Hopes.

Some are unknown. Others are realized.

I start with the latter. Fishing is not academic to or for me. But you know that. Every once in a while, there’s a more-than-special moment when fishing. Want to illustrate both presence of hope, the real and the unknown. In that order…

Last Wednesday, November 6, 2019, fished with Bob Ball on the Hoh River. Hard to find a more beautiful river…so majestic. Wending our way through the canyon, sunrise, this picture happened. I didn’t sing out literally, but mentally, “Morning Has Broken.” So glorious, so pastoral, so real, so comforting. God’s creation is magnificent:

We then cast our hearts out. No, wrong. We cast our hearts full…getting the spinner close to the bank, reeling at a pace that goes with the current flow, waiting for the tug, or pull or hammer. The latter happened, almost as I lifted my spinner out of the river. The Coho had other ideas. Gives “Boom” and “Smash” a unique meaning. Ah, hope realized…yes, the result of tight lines: This gives me the Salmon Slayer moniker:

Now. The unknown. Hope unknown. And, mainly, it’s unknown to us. How we impact others. Sure, we receive a word of gratitude. But, mostly we’re not told. And maybe that’s a good thing…so humility doesn’t escape.

It is, though, a reality that we impact others…by what we say or don’t say, by what we do or don’t do. What’s important is not to wonder our impacting presence. Okay, not to deny it’s horrible to be rejected or be nothing to others. But, the primary purpose is not the impact. Nope. The primary purpose in life is to be a person whose caring spirit is never vacated. Never. This picture illustrates the times we don’t know when hope happens. But. Not to know is never to be discouraged. Keep casting…and others will know that life is “Tight Lines!”

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A Reflection Upon Sexual Orientation

I cannot remember, ever and ever ago, that I looked derisively at Gays or Lesbians. I do know there is aberrant behavior when it comes to sexuality.

I remember, more than vividly when I got up one morning as an 8th grader. My mother was ironing. I sent in to tell her I was up.

She was ironing…and was crying. In my memory, that was a first. At least in my recollection. She pointed to the morning newspaper and said, almost a whisper, “Mark, please read that article…and tell me if you were involved.”

I sensed something horribly wrong. I read the article and was aghast…that’s the most polite version. Our pastor at our church had been arrested for pedophilia. Shocking.

My first response, “No, mother, this is a shock. He had nothing to do with me.”

I knew what he did was WRONG….not wrong but WRONG.

Of course he was tried and convicted, moved to Seattle, became a house painter and committed suicide.

I remember something else about sexuality.

One of my dearest friends in early ministry, graduated in my high school class in 1958. We linked up for lunches after each of us was ordained. Met maybe twice a year when I’d visit Portland and my family.

He was a Methodist minister, became Senior Pastor of the largest UMC in Portland.

I remember the lunch when he shared his sexual orientation—was gay—but had to be closeted. He said if he outed himself his ministry would be destroyed.

I grieved for that, but couldn’t inroad his decision about how he managed. A year later I wept when we had lunch, during which he shared he was HIV positive.

His funeral was not easy. I had flown in from Colorado, one of four-clergy who led the worship. By then the congregation learned about my friend.

After that, the former Senior Pastor of the church wrote a history of the church…and included my friend in a mere two paragraphs. It was not an affirmation.

I never wrote this former pastor, had never met him. But, I was furious with him. Even more was upset my dear friend couldn’t un-closet himself.

Where is all this going?

I mentioned I was in Seattle the last few days, had a beautiful meeting/lunch with Joanne Carlson Brown, a treasured clergy buddy.

She wrote what to me is a very deep reflection on the journey a Gay or Lesbian has to take, even when “out.” Joanne has given me her permission to share what she wrote.

Yes, it is lengthy, but its value is not its length but its depth. I share it with you.

Of course I do not know your own perspective and “take” on sexual orientation. However, please read what Joanne shares. To me it’s so wise and powerful.

Blessings upon us all!

Mark.

Clergy Wellness Reflections

Love -the only Way

Ministry demands that we have authenticity and integrity, honesty and transparency all while maintaining our boundaries appropriately. This is hard enough for anyone, but for queer clergy this has been and in many cases still is impossible. We have to somehow be quiet or hide or dissemble about our true God-given, God-blessed identities as queer folks. The church has legislated us out of the church officially since 1972 but it was going on long before that. So many of our clergy have come of age in a church that only knew fear and rejection and persecution and hate. We have had to sit in meetings and Annual and General Conferences hearing our very being and worth as human beings, our right to exist, never mind clergy, debated for many, many years.

I am old guard. It was my ordination in the Rocky Mountain Conference in 1982 as the first openly gay person to be ordained an elder in the UMC that caused the bit in the Discipline that no “self-identified, practicing homosexual can be ordained, appointed, or reappointed.” to be added. I have never not been “out”. I have been able to do my ministry in a way I needed to do it but that was and is not the case for many of my sibling queer clergy. How to maintain wellness in this atmosphere of distrust, pain, anger, frustration, exclusion?

Community. Love – the only way. It is important to have people to whom you can talk and be honest about who you are and your call to ministry and to support, challenge, and yes, love. We need to find ways to love God, love God’s people and most importantly in this situation to love ourselves as Beloveds of God.

Some of us have been at this a very long time. We have consistently gathered as queer clergy every Annual Conference for dinner at a restaurant a decent way from the bar of the Conference – word spread by mouth by checking with already known folks if it was OK to invite another we knew of. Did people feel safe having that person join us. We have been much more open than in the beginning. Many queer clergy, especially in the youngish clergy are working for change in the Church in their local ministry settings, at Conference level, and nationally. This is the other way we survive – working against injustice in whatever forms we find them as openly queer clergy. But no matter the support, love, community, and justice work it is many times hard to answer “how is it with your soul” in a positive manner. I’m sure other, maybe younger queer clergy will have a different take on this. But I and others have been here for the long haul, being educational tools for the Church- trying to help them understand that we have been called by our radically transforming, loving God. But if we admit it, some of us are tired of fighting – joining the “I’m done” movement. Frankly some of us survive, and even well, but others do not. Folks have been driven out of the church, have committed suicide at not being accepted for ordination simply because of their sexual identity, and have turned their back on religion because of the pain they have experienced.

I was supposed to write about how queer clergy maintain their wellness. That has to be answered by each individual as they find what strength they need to keep fighting, keep doing ministry, keep loving God and God’s people. Personally as an historian when I am searching for anything my first instinct is to go to the people who have gone before us. For spiritual quests I am very Wesleyan. I turn first to Scripture. The passage that soothes my soul is Isaiah 43. I have it printed out and hung on my wall in my office. “ Because you are precious in my sight and honored and I love you”. No one can take that affirmation away from me. I also find the example of Jesus who refused to stop preaching against injustice or abandon those marginalized in society to the point where he was disrupting and upsetting the established order both religious and secular and was executed for that. It gives me strength to go on with what I am called to do – live The Way – that will stand for justice and liberation and radical transforming love in the face of opposition. I also turn to the history of struggles in the past, especially recovering the stories of women queer folks in society and the church. It is important to know you have a history of your own – your own people to guide, inform, and strengthen you. And using other sources that have developed over time to explain or lift up different interpretations of people, events, and attitudes and beliefs. And finally I have my experience that no one can take away of being unconditionally loved by a liberating God who has called me to follow the Way and to minister to God’s people in whatever way I can, in all the ways I can, at all the the time I can. Working my way through Wesley’s theology and how that is experienced and lived in my life is my spiritual practice that gives the solid foundation to withstand the waves of hate, oppression, soul-destroying coming from the Church and the society in which we live.

The pain of GC 2019 is very present. With the Traditional Plan set to take effect on January 1, 2020 many fear what will happen. Others have put their faith and energy in something miraculous happening at GC 2020. But everyone needs to understand the impact those decisions and discussions and debates have on queer clergy and lay souls. There is not an easy answer to how to maintain clergy wellness in the midst of all that is happening in our Church. But we do so for the most part by various means that are all rooted in love – the Way. We are not alone – we have each other and we have our Beloved God. With that affirmation we can overcome anything.

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